Pope Francis has laid down an ultimatum to defiant Nigerian priests: lose your job if you don’t obey me and your bishop.
According to a report by Associated Press, Pope Francis met June 8 at the Vatican with a delegation from the Ahiara diocese, south-east Nigeria where priests have been refusing to accept the 2012 appointment by the then pontiff, Benedict XVI, of the local bishop.
The Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, reporting the pope’s unusually harsh order, said on Sunday that Francis was acting “for the good of the people of God” by threatening to suspend the priests from the ministry if they didn’t pledge in a letter, by July 9, “total obedience” to Francis and accept Bishop Peter Okpaleke’s appointment.
Mr. Francis told the visiting delegation he was “very sad” about the priests’ refusal to obey and ruled out tribal loyalties as explaining the refusal.
Africa has been one of the continents where the Catholic church is growing. The faithful and clergy there often imbue their practices with local culture in dynamic contrast to more traditional routines in Europe or North America.
Francis’ move to end disobedience to the Vatican aims at ensuring the growing church there will be loyal to the pontiff.
His remarks to the visiting delegation indicated how dangerous he viewed any rebellion against papal authority.
Those priests opposing Mr. Okpaleke’s taking up of his office “want to destroy the church, which is not permitted,” the pope said in his address to the delegation.